Freedom of Information Act
On July 20, 2018 we filed a Freedom of Information Act request to better understand the Forest Service’s decision to grant an easement to allow for construction of the Village at Wolf Creek. After months of not providing documents, we filed suit to obtain the information, and a Federal Judge has ordered the Forest Service to release documents to us every two weeks. We are posting the documents here as we receive them so that the public can remain involved in this process of understanding how the Service is making decisions about the management of our public lands.
The Land Exchange
On May 17 2017, the U.S. District Court reversed a land exchange on Wolf Creek Pass that had been approved by the U.S. Forest Service in 2015. This land exchange would have provided increased access to a roughly 300-acre inholding that has been proposed for development by Texas billionaire “Red” McCombs. This decision effectively stopped the construction of a “village” for 10,000 people in one our nation’s most important wildlife movement corridors.
In June, the developers (Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture), filed a Motion to Reconsider asking the judge to reconsider his decision. This motion was denied.
In October, the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture filed an appeal of the May 17 decision. They were joined by the U.S. Forest Service who filed their own appeal in November.
The Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture submitted their appellate brief on May 9, 2018, however, the US Forest Service decided not to appeal Judge Matsch’s Order!
On December 11, 2018, a federal appeals court dismissed the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture appeal, based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The dismissal leaves in place Judge Matsch’s findings, as well as his invalidation of the land exchange. Read the full press release and court opinion.
On December 9, 2019, our lawyers were in Court trying to gain assurance that the Forest Service and the developer complied with Judge Matsch’s Order and unwound the land exchange. It turns out that this is more complicated than it might seem.
With easements that need to be put back in place, special use permits that may need to be rescinded, deeds to void and new deeds to file, RMW and its partners have been arguing that we cannot take these parties at their word. Luckily Judge Kane agreed and Ordered the Defendants to compile a record of documents confirming what has been done to implement and unwind the land exchange and to provide sworn declarations from key Forest Service employees who oversaw this process.
Once we receive these documents on December 20th, we will thoroughly analyze and confer with our property law expert to determine if we feel confident that judgment has been satisfied.
The Road Access
In early June 2018, we were made aware of a January 12, 2018 letter sent to the Forest Service by the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture where they demanded that the Forest Service ignore recent court decisions and instead approve road construction to begin the proposed real estate development.
In response to this new revelation, the Friends of Wolf Creek issued a petition to urge Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas to uphold Federal Court Orders and stand up to back channel pressures. Despite over 2,300 signatures gathered in a little over a month, on July 19, the Rio Grande National Forest announced its intention to circumvent a federal court ruling that invalidated prior approvals for the controversial Village at Wolf Creek real estate development.
To make matters worse, the Forest Service severely limited who could object on this action by limiting objections to those who “previously submitted specific written comments regarding the proposed project during scoping or comments on the draft EIS” in 2012. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to comment on changes to their public lands and encouraged everyone to submit their objections whether or not they had standing.
As was expected, supporters who did not have standing to object by the Forest Service’s definition began to receive rejections to their objections on October 17, 2018. However, people who had submitted comments in the past and therefore would have standing began to receive the letters as well.
On February 27, 2019, Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas signed a Final Record of Decision that could result in an easement to facilitate construction of the massive “Village.”
We are collecting rejections from people and our litigating groups and counsel will chart a course on how to approach these generic denials. Please email your rejection letter with the approximate date you sent your objection (if known), a copy of your objection (if you feel comfortable sending it), if you submitted comments in the past, and approximate date you sent comments in the past if you can remember (years are also helpful if you can’t remember exact dates). We will track those and provide them to our lawyers.
Please continue to follow this activity on our website or sign up for our action alerts to be notified when actions are available.